Playing Games at Work

Monday, October 1, 2012
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I love to play games -- something that started as a kid and continues to surprise my mom. She thought I outgrew this fascination.

Today, my gaming needs are met by playing with my 5- and 8-year old nephews, as well as through the more-than-300 benefits and health-related websites and mobile applications I've tested for developers.

I'm also seeing HR executives becoming interested in game playing -- or what is being called "gamification," as a way to enable employee behaviors that improve human capital. HR leaders who apply game techniques are largely using them in employee benefits and wellness communications, but opportunities also exist to address company-revenue-impacting behaviors, such as safety and key business-operations activities.

The first place HR leaders -- who want to add game techniques to their programs -- need to begin is to focus on their objectives, which are usually based on company goals. For example, the organization may want to maintain or drive down healthcare costs. From there, an analysis of company data leads to an understanding of the main drivers of cost, the behaviors the company wants to incentivize, and the measures for success.

The application of game mechanics then becomes based more on HR priorities than communication vehicles. One key to employing gamification is to put layers on top of what already exists. If print materials work as part of HR's communication strategy, then an employer can use game mechanics to make it more interactive.

Adam Wootton, director of social media and games at Towers Watson, believes games delivered through apps can be an effective approach to socialization and behavior change. He also believes that successful games often abide by three parameters: they keep score, declare a winner and allow the player to have fun.

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My colleague and friend, Fran Melmed -- a workplace-wellness consultant at Philadelphia-based Context Communication Consulting -- recently unveiled an employee-targeted health app called Hotseat to strong early reviews. Melmed designed the app to respond to a growing phenomenon called the "sitting disease," where too much time spent seated increases mortality risk -- regardless of the amount of time spent doing leisure-time physical activity.

For me, I derive a great sense of satisfaction as I watch employers discover the power of game playing in motivating employees to absorb content and take action. Now, if I could just get my mother to play along with me.

Carol Harnett can be followed on Twitter via @carolharnett.

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